practical phd

a transparent source for all things PhD

After I became a parent, I started realizing that a lot of advice about graduate school and the research process are geared towards academics who are single and have no children.  If you have children and if you are the primary caregiver for your children, you face a different set of constraints, challenges, and responsibilities than your single colleagues with no children.  To what extent those constraints, challenges, and responsibilities are different depends in part on how much support you have in the specific form of child care, since getting work done as a parent kids often requires not being with your kids.  Here are a few pieces of advice that just didn’t work for me post-partum.  

1. Write During Your Optimal Work Time

Ideally, you would write at your prime work time.  So whether your prime work time is 6am or 3pm or 12am, you would prioritize writing during that time to use your optimal work time for this important aspect of our work.  However, it’s not always possible to do that when you’re a parent. In fact, you sometimes can’t work during your prime work time at all when you have kids. For me, this has meant that I work when I have the time and ability to go to the office.  Sometimes this means I’m at home doing things with my family during times when it would be optimal for me to be writing. While this isn’t ideal, it’s how things have worked out, so I make the best of my work time when I have it.  

2. Work 50-70 Hours a Week

When I started on my tenure-track job, a very well meaning and helpful faculty member told me to figure out what I needed to do to achieve tenure (e.g., how many articles) and then determine how many hours a week I needed to work to achieve that whether that was 50, 60, or 70.  This is extremely practical and useful advice, but my immediate response was that I can not work more than 40 hours a week. In retrospect, I can see that he and I were in very different positions during our early tenure-track years. My schedule requires that I’m home by a certain time to be with my kid.  I’m also not the parent who pulls out my laptop when my kid goes to bed, mainly because by that time of the day I am tired! So when my night owl kiddo crashes at 10pm, so do I. Finding time to work at home is a lot easier for parents whose children go to bed at 7 though, so squeezing in a couple of hours of work before going to bed is possible.  For me, I work the hours that I’m in the office because that’s what fits in our schedule, but every family’s situation is different, so do what works for you and your family’s schedule!

3. Protect your Writing Time

Advice around setting a daily writing practice often includes to schedule writing time as an appointment on your calendar and never schedule something that conflicts with it.  It is an appointment and commitment to yourself. While this is certainly ideal, it isn’t always possible as a parent. That doctor’s appointment you had to schedule months in advance may only be possible during your writing time.  The Halloween parade that you were really excited to attend might be a conflict. Your writing time might even be interrupted with a call to pick up a sick kid. It can be hard to protect your writing time because of these priorities.

4. Unplug During Writing Time

Another common piece of advice about writing is to unplug from distractions like your phone, email, and social media.  Turn your phone to do not disturb mode. Don’t open your email. And do not go on Twitter or Instagram. While it’s easy to stay off of email or social media platforms, being a parent means being on call 24-7, so turning off my phone is not an option.  During my writing time, I’m still aware of my phone and checking to make sure that a text or phone call coming in isn’t about my kid and something I need to respond to. Luckily, it’s not often an interruption, but the advice to unplug to write is just not one I can implement.

5. Make Time to Exercise 

Exercising can be an important way to manage stress, so folks often recommend making time to exercise and prioritizing your exercise schedule over any other conflicts.  This advice assumes you have time and energy to exercise. Frankly since becoming a parent, I find myself frequently choosing sleep over exercise, which I think is a logical decision.  I function better as a parent and an academic when I’m rested. When it does not mean sacrificing sleep, I am glad to exercise, but most days in most weeks, this is not an option for me.

There are surely many more pieces of advice that don’t fit for parents.  What are some that you’ve heard?

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